Director – Karyn Kusama
Cast – Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch, Lindsay Burdge, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Jay Larson, Marieh Delfino, Aiden Lovekamp, Danielle Camastra
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
While I’m a fan of slashers, creatures, and zombies, I occasionally crave the slow-burn horror/thrillers like The Invitation. Films like this one tend to be hit and miss with horror fans. For me, these flicks are mood-based. Sometimes I am engaged by the plot summary but am simply not in the mood to wait it out for the goods. This effort, however, is worth the patience. I had heard nothing but good things about this flick, and I wish I had given it a watch sooner. It is full of twists, comes riddled with deceptively effective tension, and results in the payoff I was hoping for.
Will (Kevin Marshall-Green; Prometheus) and his girlfriend Kira accept an invitation for a dinner party held by his ex wife Eden and her new husband at Will’s former home. Once a loving couple, Will and Eden’s marriage was torn apart by the accidental death of their young son. After disappearing for two years, Eden and David have brought their closest friends together for a night of fellowship. They explain that they spent those two years in Mexico as part of a grief support group called “The Invitation”. This group used spiritual philosophy to deliver them from their inner demons. Suspicious of her intent behind the sudden party and the addition of two unannounced members of The Initiation, Will begins to uncover evidence that Eden and David have sinister plans for their guests.
If it isn’t obvious by now, “The Invitation” is a cult. Lore has told us that cults are deceptive and they tend to have a big finish planned for their followers. I really enjoy storylines like this, where the viewer / protagonists must decide if ulterior motives are really at play, and if the alleged cult members are even members of a cult. Similar film: Faults. That is the case here with Will. He is already suspicious of why his ex wife and her new husband would want him and his new girlfriend around. He is also very surprised at how happy they are, as the death of his son is still haunting him and should be haunting Eden as well. The night begins in a safe manner, with all of the guests arriving and enjoying food, drink, and laughs. Will however notices small things that only further his suspicions, like the way David locks his front door, and how the unannounced guest parked behind everyone’s vehicles. You put yourself in Will’s shoes, where you decide what you would do with this information, and Will takes it headstrong. He makes his situational awareness known, much to the embarrassment of his girlfriend, and his friends attribute this to his already fragile state. The story will throw you for a loop here and there. There are times when you will think that Will is on to something, but then a logical explanation arises that leaves him looking like a paranoid fool. The actions of Eden and David are definitely suspect, and they openly admit to joining what is essentially a cult. With rising evidence of sinister motives being explained by logical revelations, you find yourself in a constant cat-and-mouse game with the truth. The horror stems from grief, suspicion, deception, and ultimately geysers out of control in a tremendous third act.
This is the first horror film from director Karyn Kusama since 2009’s Jennifer’s Body, and she delivers what I feel to be her best work to date. Bringing this story from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi to life took some skill in that it required good execution to make the tension work. Crafty cinematography and atmosphere make the home feel like it is the impending scene of a mass murder. Her execution of the characters is dead-on, as they are the source of horror for the entirety of the film. While Will, Eden, and David contribute the most to this, it is Eden and David’s new friends who add more tension than I suspected (for supporting characters). Sadie and Pruitt (John Carol Lynch; Zodiac, Gothika, American Horror Story) carry with them an uneasy vibe that will hook you to the screen in anticipation that they are going to initiate something drastic. While the majority of the horror is inferred, things do eventually kick in to gear. These latter scenes are solid, but I was most impressed with the insidious tension Kusama provided in this effective slow-burner.
Overall, The Invitation is a solid experience for those seeking something outside the norm of brash killers and ghosts. With a gripping story and solid execution from Karyn Kusama, this is one of 2016’s better horror films.